Future of Sharing: Pew’s Director of Internet Research Talks Revolutions, Rapid Adoption, and Attitudes Towards Tech

Lee Rainie, Director of Internet, Science and Technology Research at Pew Research Center, believes we are in the middle of the fourth major technology-based revolution of the 21st century. The first was Internet broadband, Rainie says, which has skyrocketed from zero percent of Americans using it to 73 percent. The second was the explosion of mobile phones—today 77 percent of Americans have smartphones and 51 percent have tablets. The third was social media, which 69 percent of Americans use. The fourth revolution, which we are currently in the middle of, is the rise of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. When Pew first began tracking Internet usage, in March of 2000, fewer than half of American adults were on the Internet. “We’ve never seen a suite of consumer electronic technologies be adopted this fast with this much impact,” Rainie says.

Rainie views the story of the sharing, or platform, economy as paralleling the growth of the Internet. From the earliest days of the Internet, people used it swap things, says Rainie. While 72 percent of Americans have used some kind of sharing or gig service, broadly defined, the percentage of people who have used ridesharing services (15 percent) or home sharing services (11 percent) remain more modest. Most Americans don’t think that new sharing services should be regulated with old regulatory frameworks, Rainie says, and the majority don’t think that service providers should be treated the same as traditional employees. Despite a growing backlash against the tech industry that has become more pronounced in the past year, most Americans say they couldn’t live without the Internet or smart phones, despite their drawbacks. “It’s as predictable as the sun rising the next morning,” Rainie says, “the role of technology and the enthusiasm for tech companies and tech inventors and innovators is really high in America. They still think it serves them well; they still like the ways in which they feel more productive. They feel more socially engaged; they feel like they learn new things; they feel like they can take better care of their health.”